by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 14, 2010
AN ODE TO THE PILL
PLANTATION, Fla. -- It was 1959. Barry had a greasy pompadour and a big goofy smile. He was my college boyfriend's best friend, and when he and his girlfriend got pregnant, they thought the world was coming to an end.
This was back when young people were supposed to practice abstinence, but our hormones were raging, condoms were still sold behind pharmacy counters and were embarrassing to ask for, there were no other birth control options and abortions were illegal, dangerous and difficult to come by.
I happened to be part of a network that arranged abortions for women "in trouble." Eventually we found a place in Puerto Rico where Barry and his girlfriend could go. I know it worked out for them, but I don't remember what happened to them later.
I do, however, know what happened to me. The birth control pill, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this past Mother's Day, went on the market and I was one of the first in line. And I still bless it for every single fertile minute that followed. When I went to Puerto Rico, it was for a vacation.
Thanks to the pill, sex and contraception finally went their separate ways. And before you start haranguing me about morals, recognize that the search for a decent method of contraception has been going on since the beginning of time.
"A thousand years ago, popular birth control methods in the Western world included spitting into the mouth of a frog, eating bees and wearing the testicles of a weasel," wrote Gail Collins in The New York Times. "In Cordoba, Spain, which was supposed to be on the scientific cutting edge, women were told to leap up and down vigorously after sex, and then jump backward nine times."
Once we had the pill, women were free to leap forward joyously without jumping back nine times. The Sexual Revolution had begun, and although it has had plenty of ups and downs and unfortunate excesses, it hasn't ended yet.
The first pill I remember was Enovid, and it packed a serious dose of estrogen - about 10 milligrams worth. Later the dosage was considerably reduced. The pill had side effects, but I never experienced them.
Birth control pills were complicated little devils. "(They) are synthetic hormones that mimic the way real estrogen and progestin works in a women's body," according to the Web site inventors.reports.com. "The pill prevents ovulation - no new eggs are released by a women on the pill since her body is tricked into believing she is already pregnant."
It's like the pill was invented by James Bond instead of Frank Colton of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Notice something missing? Last Sunday, "60 Minutes" thought it was avant-garde when it "broke the news" that a male contraceptive pill was in development.
Hogwash! After I got married - yes, to Barry's best friend - we moved to Palo Alto so Jerry could do advanced work at Stanford and I could take the traditional series of low-paying grad-student-wife scut jobs. The first was working on the line at a pharmaceutical company that made the pill
The company already had the male pill then. Everyone knew it. The mechanics of a male pill are rather straightforward. Since the one for women is complicated, you'd think a male contraceptive would be an easy sell. So why didn't the company I worked for put it on the market?
Because the company, which no longer exists, believed it interfered with the male's divine right to produce and spew sperm in every direction. Unfortunately, this societal attitude has not yet changed - cue the "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" CD and let's all sing along: Every sperm is sacred/Every sperm is great/If a sperm is wasted/God gets quite irate.
Looking back on the pill from a personal perspective, did the sexual freedom it bestowed on me hurt or help?
I'd say it helped in a multitude of ways. First of all, it made me realize that while I loved my first husband (and still do), the marriage was not right.
That sent me on a path of sexual discovery. Contrary to what the perfume ads want you believe, sex has to be learned. It's like reading and other useful skills.
When the time was right, I was able to bring all the sexual knowledge I had garnered - all the pain, heartbreak, hope, experience and happiness - into a second marriage where it has stood me in good stead for several decades. At 68, I'm still smiling, if you get my drift.
Birth control pills are currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide. In 2008 alone, Americans spent more than $3.5 billion on them. There are many new ways to deliver estrogen. There are even "emergency" day-after pills. Pills are also the brightest answer to the ugly question of abortion - at least until the male pill is finally released.
And they saved my life. Or should I say, they gave me my life? Thank you, Frank Colton.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at email@example.com.